Tree Poem is one of John T. Scott’s most overtly representational and naturalistic sculptures. After being commissioned by Cheekwood in 1997, he walked the grounds and chose the site for his work. He derived the form of his shimmering, silver trees from photographs taken on The Carell Trail, selecting four living, vertical specimens, and one that had fallen horizontally on the ground. He translated these images into detailed drawings, used them as templates and created the piece by cutting into half-inch aluminum. Scott wanted the surface to be reflective, so that the sculpture would create optical illusions as viewers approached it from different angles, appearing flat from the side and wide when seen head-on. Tree Poem blends into its wooded surroundings and remains something of an artificial invasive species. As Scott stated, “I wanted to use the site itself as the idea and then play with the contradiction. Obviously, these are not real trees, but they are from real trees.”
Scott fabricated the piece at his studio in New Orleans, where he lived and worked most of his life, but the final form of the work was not settled until after he finished its installation in Nashville. He credited the strong influence of his hometown and a background in jazz for shaping his improvisational, dynamic approach to making art. Scott’s later sculpture, especially those made in aluminum, was heavily influenced by George Rickey, who he befriend while participating in a summer residency program at the noted sculptor’s Hand Hollow Foundation in East Chatham, New York in 1983.